Several years ago, I spoke to a minister who was teaching in the outskirts of New York on 9/11 2001. He told me that he’d never seen strangers come together as they did in the weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers. People went out of their way to be nice to each other, support each other, smile at each other, and lend a helping hand wherever they could. He has not experienced anything like it since.
People Get Sidetracked
The truth is that work towards harmony often dissipates in rhythm with receding acrimony. People start to feel better and get sidetracked. This is natural.
If you want to be a bridge-builder, however, you have to work against this instinctive urge. You have to make harmony important, either by continually reminding yourself of the worst that can happen or by envisioning the kind of world that you want to live in and work towards that every day. Some days the carrot will be enough to spur you to action, other days only a vivid mental image of the stick will do the trick.
Democracy presents an interesting dilemma. There needs to be a degree of social harmony to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power from one party to the other after elections. Simultaneously, we need to have vigorous ideological debates about how to achieve the common good—which is ultimately what a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ should work towards.
The question of how to balance these two competing interests is the critical issue of our times and it depends on several elements.
Confession: I Can't Afford to be Angry and Outraged All the Time. Here Is What I Try To Do Instead...
Nearly every day of every week of every month for the past few years I’ve seen news stories, images, and ideas that sparked feelings of anger and outrage in me. Simultaneously, I’ve been told by activists to ‘stay angry’ because that is the only way to affect real change.
The problem is, I can’t.
I am just one of those people who can’t afford to be in a continuous state of anger and outrage. Such internal turmoil tears at the very fabric of my soul, poisons my relationships, and causes me to act in ways that are antithetical to my core beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that anger is not only a primitive and aggressive emotion and that, in fact, sometimes anger conveys signals from my moral compass that are meant to change my behavior. But, the truth remains that I cannot afford to be angry all the time.
Here is what I try to do instead.
Is there more divisiveness in the world now than at any other time in history? That’s a question that is nearly impossible to answer. That said, most people we talk to feel that divisiveness of all sorts—be it political, theological, racial, or personal—has become a sustained part of their everyday life, even if they don’t want to participate in it. The question then becomes: How do people respond to such sustained divisiveness?
An Array of Responses to Acrimony
The following is a sample of common responses:
While I was writing this week’s newsletter, I realized that the forces of division had not taken a summer break this year. While I was entertaining my kids during our eighth consecutive daddy-summer-camp, the steady drumbeat of anger, fear, and contempt in public discourse seemed to grow louder—if that’s even possible.
Everyone Thinks They Are On the Right Side of History
As emotions have gotten hotter, everyone seems to assume that they are on the right side of history, that their ideological position is the only one that is correct and that everyone else is mistaken. People stand on the opposite sides of widening chasms in both religion and politics and shout: “They started it! They are wrong!”
Who Will Listen to the Bridge Builders?
In this type of atmosphere, people who suggest that we should build bridges and work towards harmony are often branded as delusional. “Peace is not in sight,” they say. “You have to fight for your right. Stay angry and outraged!”
It's a sad fact that peacemakers have historically been laughed at, scorned and shouted down. Fortunately for us, history is on the side of those who long for a state of civil discourse. Peace has prevailed more often than not… but it hasn’t come out of nowhere. Peace is usually the result of tireless work by those who are committed to it.
Ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building across divides.
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Our Mission and Primary Goal
Our mission is to train and support people who want to do good in the world. We do this by providing access to strategies, methods, and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge-building across divides. Our primary goal is to help others create harmony in diverse communities.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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